Three ways to power up and get the jump on your chore list

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Commitment to the To Do list! By: Rob and Stephanie Levy - CC BY 2.0
Commitment to the To Do list! By: Rob and Stephanie LevyCC BY 2.0

I used to freaking hate doing the dishes — to the point where I seriously considered buying new dishes instead of cleaning the ones that have been sitting for way too long. Now, I almost look forward to it. How did my outlook change so completely? Did I have a frontal lobotomy? Nope! I came up with some easy ways to trick my brain into realizing that doing the dishes isn’t so bad. These mind hacks are applicable to a range of chores and items on your to do list. Use what works for you, and share your own in the comments!

1. De-suckify the task as much as possible

For me and my hated dishes chore, this meant prettying up my environs. I dressed up my dish soap dispenser and found a way to wirelessly amplify tunes in the kitchen. I got some gorgeous dish gloves (have you guys seen how amazing dish gloves can be!?) and I used a trick Ariel taught me: put hand moisturizer on before putting on the dish gloves, and by the time you’re done, it absorbs into your skin. (Incidentally, waiting for moisturizer to dry is super annoying to me, too. So this is two birds with one stone!)

If you hate vacuuming, put on some headphones to help you drone out the noise and pump up your mood. Make your laundry room as welcoming as you can so you don’t dread spending time there. Call a friend, put them on speaker phone, and you can each catch up while you do a mindless task. When you begin to associate enjoyable things with the chore, it doesn’t seem as bad anymore.

2. Time the task (and be pleasantly surprised)

I spent way more time dreading doing the dishes than I have ever spent doing the dishes. All told, I would only hear a few songs on my playlist before I was done washing. It took me less than 15 minutes! From then on, when I found myself procrastinating on doing them, I reminded myself that the task isn’t the time-suck I see it as. This makes it infinitely easier to start: the sooner I start, the sooner it’s over and I can get back to something more fun. In her post about similar dirty dish-related angst, WenSurprised came to this realization, too. She turned the fifteen minutes into a dedicated reflection time, too:

Did you know, if you do the dishes every single evening, on average, it only takes 15 minutes? Just long enough, usually, for me to think through what I need to do before bed, or to plan the next day’s outfit, or to figure out something yummy to take for lunch the next day. All of my dishes-related angst evaporated.

Fold laundry while watching this week’s episode of your favourite show and realize that you’re done long before the credits roll. Debrief your day in your mind while you clean the toilet (metaphor?). Chores are more manageable when you break them down, and this is in large part because they really just don’t take very long at all.

3. Cross off your completed tasks like a boss

I really love having a to do list, but not because it keeps me organized or on track. These are great side-effects, sure — but what I love about lists is crossing shit off of them. I put everything on a list. Do the dishes, fold laundry, send that email, write that post, etc. It feels so good to cross something off the list (or to add it after doing it, then cross it off) that it motivates me to get something done. And when I’m staring at 10 tasks to be done by tomorrow, and the easiest one is doing the dishes? Guess who’s leaping at the chance to do the dishes before all the other tasks.

Productive procrastination is a great way to eliminate smaller less-urgent but important tasks from the list. Plus, the little boost I get in my mood from accomplishing something helps motivate me to tackle the next task. This is my favourite to do list because it’s in a convenient calendar. (Here it is put to use for Offbeat Home & Life.) Use whatever works best for you — an app, a random piece of scrap paper, a Word Doc, whatever. In my experience, making it something aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible (the one I use doubles as a mouse pad) helps me keep to the list even more.

How about it, Homies? What are your hacks for putting your mind in the zone to tackle your to do list?

Comments on Three ways to power up and get the jump on your chore list

  1. Along the lines of timing your chores I like to set a 15 min timer and just do as much of one chore or as many small tasks as I can in the 15 min and then take a break. Here’s what I’ve found
    1) You can do anything for 15 min. Even your least favorite chores, even your quicky exercises you’ve been meaning to do but keep putting off (I’m looking at you crunches)
    2) More often than not I end up completing my task BEFORE those 15 min are up! Seriously, I end up getting more done in those 15 min than the rest of my day sometimes.
    3) When I set a 15 min limit I have found people (read: boyfriend/kids) are more willing to help me with whatever needs doing than if I just ask them to put whatever they are doing on hold indefinitely

    • Yes! As a kid, my mom used to have us do “10 mins a room”. With 3-4 of us working for 10 minutes we could whirlwind clean almost any room. Occasionally the kitchen took a little longer than 10, but we could get counters wiped, dishes done, sweeping, put away leftovers from dinner, etc.

      The only thing I didn’t like about it as a kid was that when the timer went off, mom would set it again and we’d move to a different room and start the process over. Usually we did 3 rooms before we took a break… I’ve found that on my own as an adult, I usually do 2 rooms before a break.

      • That guy I married said his mom used to do this with him. She’d call it “white tornado” and they’d clean up as much as they possibly could in ten minutes. It was a competition. We use it together at home now. We go “white tornado” before company comes over.

        • “White Tornado” sound so much cooler than “10 mins a room”. That’s awesome! I also like the competitive aspect of it. I may be able to use that to get my husband more involved 🙂

    • works for sex, too, especially if you’re in that place that sex feels like a chore…

      though be advised, it might end up that you WANT it to take longer than 15 minutes once you get started…

    • I clicked because of the tattoo, the wearer either lives in my city or the nearest city just down to road ( I can tell by the bills listed.)

  2. I totally will do a task, write it on my to do list and then cross it off. I find seeing that I already have one thing accomplished motivates me more to tackle the rest of my list.

  3. I kinda do the timing thing, but let the another chore dictate that time.

    I always put my washing machine on first. Then I aim to get the ironing, vacuuming and any other smaller jobs done within the time it takes to run a wash. I’ve no idea how long it is, but it seems to be a good length of time and it puts it’s own cut off on things, instead of an arbitrary x minutes (which I tried but it annoyed me). I like that it is self limiting and it seems like a logical place to stop

    • I kind of like the way you don’t know the exact time – kind of like “hot potato” 😉 Our dryer also has a minute countdown so sometimes I try to get XYZ done before the laundry is out.

      I tend to take those things more seriously than an arbitrary timer because the time really is cut off in that you need to do something else then.

  4. I like to combine TV watching (which is a treat for me) with doing the little chores. I can sort or fold laundry, load the dishwasher during a commercial break, do a bit of exercise/stretching. It makes the chore more enjoyable and helps me feel less guilty about watching TV when there are things to be done. It becomes a fun exercise in creativity to try to combine a fun thing and a non-fun thing to get the to-do list cleared off.

  5. Dishes has always been an area of angst in our house, so I’ve decided (after nearly 2 years of marriage) to just not try to get my husband to do the dishes. I want them done before bed, therefore it will just be my job. Somehow, having only myself to blame for dishes not done has made this less stressful.

    I use the FlyLady technique: clear out a spot under the sink for a dishpan. During the day, dirty dishes get a quick rinse (if needed) and then placed in the dishpan. After the dinner mess, I take out all the dishes, arrange them on the counter in a tidy, logical order…and then do them. Every night. I put them on a dish rack to dry, and then as soon as I’m done washing, I dry the dishes with a towel and put them away. The dish rack gets the biggest droplets wipes off, then that too disappears under the sink. I use my drying towel to then dry and shine the sink so that it’s all clean and tidy for the morning. Even if NO other chores get done, or if for some reason I can’t do the dishes that night…the sink is ALWAYS empty and shined before bed. It felt very petty at first, but I have to say that vowing to shine the sink every night has somehow really helped.

    As for the rest of the chores, again I fall to the FlyLady technique. Divide your house into “zones” that you focus on one at a time in weekly increments. Get a timer, and set it for 15 minutes, and declutter in that zone only. No getting sidetracked. Do this once a day. Only later in the week, after that room has been thoroughly decluttered, can you do 15 minutes of OTHER cleaning in that room (vacuuming, dusting, changing sheets, whatever). If you don’t get to it this week, that’s OK. You’ll hit it again next month. Identify your “hot spots” (places where clutter tends to breed, like the kitchen counter by the door or your bedside table), and set the timer for 2 minutes. Declutter ONE hotspot for 2 minutes before going to bed. Laundry: a load a day keeps the CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome) away. Wash a load, dry it, and then fold it as you take it out of the dryer. Don’t leave the dryer without taking clothes to put away. No more basket of clean clothes perpetually waiting to be folded!

    I started this technique when the FlyLady “zone” was the master bedroom. The first evening, I did the 15 minutes of decluttering…and was seriously embarrassed at how much I was able to accomplish considering how long all of that clutter had just been sitting there.

    • You are my husband in this situation. I would never do the dishes soon enough, so he just does them. We eventually settled on a system where we are responsible for different chores, and we just do then when they need to be done rather trying to figure out who did it last. And things like laundry neither of us mind, so we both do that.

      • I specifically bought one of those folding bamboo ones so that it can be folded up and tucked away. No need for a drain pan now either…I just have a dish towel underneath it to catch the drips that I can later use for mopping up, or just hang on my multi-towel hanger to dry for the next day (I would have never used a dish towel or drying mat before because it would just get mildewy sitting there….Duh, don’t let it sit there!). We have limited counter space, and this really clears up room, and without having one of those in-the-sink drainers that just gets in the way.

        Oh, the multi-towel rack…get one. Those stupid over-the-cabinet-door ones are a waste of effort, and I hate when people put the dish towel over the oven handle. These ones are hard to find in stores, but Amazon has them cheap. Get one, screw it somewhere convenient, and now you can have more than one towel handy (a drying towel, an under-the-drainer towel) without having to just toss them in the wash anytime they get a little damp.

      • I refuse to buy a dish rack. We have drying mats. They get hung up under the sink when not in use, though I confess they are on the counter most of the time. I hate doing dishes. My husband doesn’t mind, but we haven’t gotten to the point where he will just take responsibility for them, and I often have to rewash them. But, it’s the only chore he will consistently do without me asking. :-/ Housework is hard.

  6. I have a Vevo playlist called “4 o’clock dance party” that I already use when my kids need to blow off steam and dance (so yeah, around 4pm). But because it’s super dancy an upbeat, I’ve been putting it on when I’m trying to get something done and it seems to help. Except for the small shimmying breaks in front of the tv.

  7. I’m with Sara (see above) – while I don’t usually pick beer for tackling my housework, I too, value an adult beverage when dealing with housework. It helps diminish the suck.

  8. I got an iPhone app called ChoreMonster. It’s intended for kids, so there’s a “parent” login and a “kid” login. You sign on to the “parent”, add chores (with PICTURES and due dates ‘n such. pretty.), then as I get done, I check them off as the “kid”. Every chore you get earns you points (the “parent” can determine goodies you can earn with points) and a spin on the monster wheel so you can collect cute monsters!
    It’s a bit labored but it’s more fun than a quick pen-and-paper blah list.

    Also: audiobooks.

  9. I am the Lady Empress of productive procrastination. Soup it the giveaway. If I’m making a homemade soup then there’s probably something I should be doing that I’m not doing.

    • Yes! Should I be working on {insert shitty task here}, sure. What am I gonna do? Prepare a 3 course meal, stock and soup for freezing, dessert and prep veggies for everything this week. I do love to cook instead whatever else I should be doing.

  10. I love using the Reminders app on my iPhone for chores! It keeps track of what you did and what day you did it on, so then I can look back and say “Yeah! Now THAT was a productive day!” Huge morale booster.

  11. I started using to keep myself cleaning up regularly, and that works beautifully. They basically turn your To-do and daily habits into a game where you can level up your character and collect rewards. All I did was set a daily task of “Clean something” and now suddenly my kitchen gets cleaned up every day. And since it tricks my brain by giving me new pets and mounts and equipment, I keep looking for more things I can go do to get more experience.

    • Habits RPG is great, it was really working for me until I got pregnant and spent three months too nauseous to do anything! Must start it again.

      • I love your comment, Robyn. Pregnancy sickness has ruined my good habits! On the plus side, my husband got used to me not being able to do much, and even though I’ve been improving lately, he still does all the dishes and is all-around more alert to what needs to be done than he used to be.

        • It’s terrible! My husband has been great, but just this week I’ve woken up to the giant list of things I have to do very soon and it is bad times.

        • I’m also pregnant and have prescribed bedrest and my hubby has been super great about taking care of stuff. I have to say, seeing him do so many chores has me more motivated than ever, even though I can’t do much at the moment.

  12. Something that is helping me is letting go of perfectionism. I used to get in this mindset of why even bother vacuuming right now if I don’t have time or energy to get into every corner, move the stuff on the floor, etc. Now I’m reminding myself that spending a few minutes to improve the state of something is totally worth it, even if I don’t clean it perfectly and there’s still some left to do.

  13. When I was very young, my mother used to wind a music box that gave me about 2-3 minutes to accomplish whichever task (toys in toy box, put on pjs, etc). The beauty of it was that you could hear it slow down as it was about to finish. The slower it went, the faster I went. Worked wonders. By the time I was old enough that “Row Row Your Boat” didn’t inspire me quite the way it used to, I’d make a list of the things I had to do and then write down how many “songs” I thought it would take. Hang Up Clothes – 4 songs, Desk – 2 songs, Bed – 1 song. Then, I’d put on my playlist and get to cleaning. I’d finish the clothes in 3 songs, the desk in 1, and the bed in the time leftover on one of the songs that was counted somewhere else. Thus, giving me a 2 song surplus. Then I’d put those two songs on as loud as I could and have a dance party. My mother objected to the blasting of the music at first until she found out WHY I was blasting and also because she knew it wouldn’t last forever AND my room was clean. As a parent, I don’t think it gets a whole lot better than that. I still do this to some extent, only I work the dance party in to the actual cleaning process and blast my music the whole time because I’m an f*ing grown up and I’m the boss now. 😛 My husband finds it very odd when he’ll come across a post it that says Dishes – 5-3-TWO EXTRA! But, he, like my mother, has come to accept my eccentricities.

  14. Another good one is to do the most hated chore first thing, that way it isn’t hanging over your head for the rest of the day and you feel good about the rest to do.

  15. Probably related to my OCD, but I get the most cleaning done when I ritualize the task. My coffee maker requires a thorough rinsing of its components before I can brew. So my coffee ritual every morning includes doing the dishes. Once my coffee is made, I am still in “dishes” mode, so I also stack the dishwasher and put away dishes laying in the drying rack. Sometimes “scoop kitty litter” is also on my morning cleaning ritual list, and I do that after I make my lunch. Then the trash can is full and I deposit the trash in the curb bin on my way out the door.
    I find morning rituals very calming. So turning my daily chores into a process makes getting out the door in the morning a little bit easier.

  16. I am a queen of procrastination, but usually there is a task I want to do even less than what I’m procrastinating about. Sometimes I can try to do the least enticing thing, and I’ll often do what I was originally procrastinating about because its not so bad.

  17. My mom recently gave me a good tip: praise yourself in your head for the good little things you do during the day. Something like, “good job putting your shoes away, Susy, you’re going to love having a clean hallway tomorrow!” Sounds stupid, but eventually those little tasks become second nature to you.

    Another one of her rules to help avoid clutter is to only handle each piece of mail once. That means, if you pick up the pile, you put each piece where it goes (trash, desk, family-member it belongs to) instead of moving the pile to another spot where it lays in wait to mount up with more mail. It usually only takes around 2 seconds to identify junk mail, so it’s super easy, and once you eliminate all the flyers and ads, there’s not much to mount up that really needs to be dealt with.

  18. This probably sounds pretty odd, but the only time I regularly smoke green is to power through my chores. It’s especially helpful with laundry. I was raised in a family that was pretty unhealthy and strict about chores (equating our skill at cleaning a toilet to our future worth as people) so it’s fun to subvert that pattern in my adult life.

    Also, I like to do what I call “Cross country cleaning” when I’m just tidying up. I’ll gather all the things from one room that belong somewhere else, take them to their respective places, then I’ll repeat in that new location, criss crossing each room as I go. It helps me feel like I’m productive all over the house and it keeps me active, instead of lingering over really messy spots that will need a deep clean at a better time.

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